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Wednesday, 27 July 1921

Senator WILSON (South Australia) . - I propose to amend the clause so that it shall read -

The Board shall inquire into and report on any matters referred to in sub-section (2) of section 15 of this Act when requested to do so by the Minister.

Sub-clause 2 of clause 15 says that the Minister may refer certain specified matters to the Board for inquiry and report; but the Committee last night placed a limit on the expenditure of the Board, and it is necessary that it should see that responsibility for the conduct of the Board is fixed on the Minister.

Senator Russell - We have settled that question.

Senator WILSON - I intend that the Bill shall be so drawn that there can be no misunderstanding, and that the Government may not be able to say later that we agreed to a Bill allowing the Board to make an inquiry on its own initiative. If the Board had power to do that, it could travel anywhere inthe Commonwealth ; and yesterday the VicePresident of the Executive Council told us that it would cost £153 for the Board to visit Western Australia alone ? The taxpayers have a right to insist that the Minister, who is responsible to. Parliament, shall be answerable for the proceedings of the Board.

Senator Russell - Has not this Committee limited the expenditure of the Board to £4,000 per annum?

Senator WILSON - Yes, but I wish to fix on the Minister the responsibility rightly belonging to him.

Senator Crawford - The honorable member would make the Board a departmental one.

Senator WILSON - The honorable Senator may put that interpretation on my amendments if he thinks fit. The taxpayers have a right to insist that an inquiry shall not be made by the Board except on reasonable grounds, and that the Minister shall be responsible for what is done. If the Minister receives com plaints, and finds that there is justification for the reference of them to the Board for inquiry, they should be referred; but the Board should not be continually touring Australia making inquiries and inflicting pin-prick annoyances on the manufacturers of the country. At the start, the Board may be rather energetic, with something of the thoroughness of the new broom, and at the end of six months it may have spent the sum set apart for its work.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Like the Public Works Committee.

Senator WILSON - The honorable member throws a brick at the Public Works Committee because he is not a member of it.

Senator Reid - Is that why you are throwing bricks at the Tariff Board?

Senator WILSON - No. I think that Senator Reid will admit that Iwould make a useful member of the Board.

Senator Russell - It is too late. The Bill is against that.

Senator WILSON - It is often the last hurdle that brings down the horse, and the Bill is not yet out of the Senate.

Senator Russell - Personally, I take no exception to the honorable senator; I think that he would make a good member of the Board.

Senator WILSON - The amendments which I shall move will fix on the Minister direct responsibility to Parliament. Were the clause passed as it stands, the. Government, should the Board not prove the success that is hoped for, would have a way out; but Ministers must take full responsibility for the Board. The taxpayers have a right to know that there will be reasonable justification for every inquiry made by the Board. It may seem a simple thing to require a manufacturer to give evidence before the Board, but the preparation of his evidence might impose on that manufacturer weeks of labour. If the taxpayers are to be put to that expense and inconvenience there should be a good reason advanced for the investigation, and the Government should take the responsibility. If the Minister " may " refer matters to the Board, there must be subsequent provision in the Bill under which the Board " shall " inquire into those matters.

SenatorRussell.-If the Minister were to refer a question tothe Board, is it conceivable that it would refuse to inquireandreport?

Senator WILSON - The Board might not deemit wise or necessary to make such an investigation.

Senator Russell - That is nonsense.

Senator WILSON - The Commonwealth may not alwaysbe as fortunate as at present, either in the personnel or with respect to the political views of the Ministry. In this measure Parliament may be giving, some future Government scope to continually harass the commercial community. There must be a Board, and' it is the duty of Parliament to make it effective. I want to be sure that the Government shall accept responsibility for their own actions, and for those of the authorities created and controlled by them., I move -

That; the words "may on its own initiative " be left out with a view to insert in lieu thereof the word " shall."

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